Similarly, imagine a business discussion via IRC, in which you have office suite documents and web pages you want to refer to. Instead of looking for information when you need to be following the conversation, in KDE 4.4 you can organize the relevant material in a single window.
KDE 4.4 tabbed-windows
Developers working from Konsole have had tabs for years. But until now, other users have lacked this simple but important advantage. It should appeal especially to OpenOffice.org users, many of whom have been lobbying for years for tabbed windows within the office suite. KDE's Plasma Netbook
KDE 4.4 also introduces Plasma Netbook, so-called because it is an adaptation of KDE's Plasma desktop rather than an entirely new desktop. You can start the new interface by selecting from the menu System Settings -> Desktop -> Workspace -> Form Factor -> Netbook.
KDE 4.4 Plasma Netbook
Plasma Netbook consists of two tabbed desktop views -- or "containments," in the jargon of KDE developers. Page One, the first view, is a collection of widgets you might want when first logging in, such as new feeds, a weather reports, and links to openDesktop.org and the KDE Knowledge Base. The second, labeled Search and Launch, is essentially the menu transferred to a series of icons on the desktop, with a favorites bar across the top and a search field.
This arrangement is more flexible that it might first appear. You can easily add a folder view to Page One if you want a specific set of icons, although you might have to scroll to find them. Should you decide not to use Plasma Netbook, you can easily return to System Settings and select Desktop instead. These are advantages that would not be possible if Plasma Netbook was completely separate from the standard desktop.
Like any new interface, Plasma Netbook takes some adjustment. However, the finished release manages to simplify the interface of its beta, and overcomes the problem I observed in the beta of having some windows open at less than optimal sizes. Of all the GNU/Linux netbook interfaces I have tried, it makes best use of space, and is the first that I would consider using.
Meanwhile, I am considering mimicking Page One by dedicating an Activity to widgets -- an idea that is so simple that it seems obvious.
This overview does not come anywhere close to describing all the features in KDE 4.4. Besides applications like the blogging tool Bloglio or the Palapeli jigsaw puzzle, the new release also includes a number of much needed administration tools, ranging from the general User Management to the KDE-specific Login Manager and K3B Setup.
Individual applications also show changes, such as the addition of a Favorite pane for email folders in Kmail or the ability to search for Plasma widgets in Krunner. Behind the scenes, the first use of the Akonadi engine promises to allow the easier sharing of personal information across different applications.
Those who want a complete list of features can refer to the KDE TechBase page for the release.
However, this overview does give some sense of how KDE has progressed with a number of long-term goals, including usability. I don't know how long KDE's developers can sustain their efforts. But just now, they seem to have a knack of introducing small innovations to make life easier for their users and for designing efficient and original interfaces.
Personally, I can't wait to see what they will do next.
ALSO SEE: The KDE 4 Series: Pro and Con